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A Timeline for College Prep for the High School Student

written by: Faith Oh•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 2/3/2011

If you are a college freshman, there is no better way to have a successful high school career and eventually get into the college of your choice than by starting early -- in your freshman year. Learn more about a high school college prep timeline that will ensure your success.

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    For many high school students, getting into college is the ultimate goal. However, it is important to understand that gaining admission to the college(s) of your choice does not happen by chance. It takes hard work, dedication and proper preparation, all of which should begin in your freshman year of high school. Do not wait until you become a senior before you start thinking about college.

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    High School College Prep Timeline

    Here is a general high school college prep timeline that every high school student should follow. It details what you should be doing at every stage of your high school career. Of course, you can make modifications to suit your particular circumstances.

    Freshman Year

    Your freshman year is when you get your feet wet and start getting used to high school life. Take a variety of subjects to help you hone in on your particular academic interests. If you had some interests in middle school that you think you want to continue, now is the time to build on them. Get involved in extracurricular activities that interest you. You may want to try out for a sport, join the speech and debate team, be on the school newspaper, magazine, television or radio station, start your own student group or volunteer at a local non-profit.

    The importance of deciding early is that by the time you are a senior, you have been involved in the activities of your choice for a number of years and will come across in your college applications as credible. You are not someone who just decided to join a bunch of clubs in your senior year just for the sake of impressing admission committee members. Joining these groups early and sticking with them over your high school years also gives you more opportunities to hold leadership positions.

    Sophomore Year

    In your sophomore year, build on the activities begun in your freshman year. Pay attention to academics, and make sure you are getting good grades. If you had any bad grades in your freshman year, make sure you don't repeat the same pattern now. By now, you should have a few subjects that really interest you and may help you decide on one to three choices for majors when the college application process begins. Keep exploring your interests, but strive to excel at whatever you do because you are already building a record; whether or not it is one of accomplishment is up to you. If you are taking any advanced placement (AP) classes, make sure to register for and take the corresponding SAT subject test once you finish the class. That way, the information is still fresh in your mind, and you have the best chance of getting a high score.

    The summer following your sophomore year (summer before your junior year) is a good time to start preparing for the PSAT, if you've not already taken it (or need to take it again), so you will be ready to take it in October.

    Continue reading on page two for more information about high school college prep timeline planning.

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    High School College Prep Timeline: Your Junior and Senior YearsWhat should you be doing in your junior and senior years of high school to make sure you end up in college at the end of your high school career? Read on to learn more about a tried and tested high school college prep timeline that should get you into college, if you do your part.
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    Junior Year

    Build upon all your previous academic and extracurricular activities. Take the PSAT in October. Not only does it prepare you for and give you an insight into how you'll do on the SAT, but a high score will qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship. Now is also a good time to start preparing for SATs. Take SAT subject tests as you finish the relevant AP classes. Build relationships with teachers, coaches, employers, counselors or other relevant adults in your life who will be able to write college recommendations for you. In addition, inform them that you intend to ask them for recommendations at college application time.

    In the summer following your junior year, try and take the SATs. This allows you more time to take them a second time early in your senior year, if you did not get the score you want. The summer before your senior year is also the time to make your list of colleges and take trips to look at colleges to which you will consider applying. Make sure you have your college list ready by the end of the summer before your senior year begins.

    Senior Year

    At the beginning of your senior year, take the SAT and any remaining subject tests early on. Gather your application materials according to school deadlines and start distributing requests for recommendation letters early enough to give your recommenders ample time to do the best job they can on your behalf.

    Most competitive colleges and scholarship programs have early deadlines. If you plan on applying for early decision or early action, you will also have an early deadline. Make sure your materials are ready well in advance of the deadline to give you time to address any unforeseen problems. Most early deadlines are in November, and you should have decisions by the end of December. If you get into your school of choice, you are ready for college. Enjoy the rest of your senior year. If not, be ready for the next set of deadlines that run from January to March.

    By April you should have heard from all the colleges to which you applied. Some responses will be big fat envelopes. If so congratulations! Other will be the small thin envelopes with one-page rejection letters. Hopefully, you will have a few colleges to choose from so you and your family can start making decisions about where you will go to college.

    In summary, the key to a successful high school career that culminates in several college offers is dedication and advance preparation. Do not play things by ear or try to wing it. You need a good action plan, and that is where this a high school college prep timeline comes into play. Follow it, and you are bound to be successful.